If recent events have proven anything, however, it is that Iran remains the unstable and ultra-religious theocracy that is has been for a quarter of a century. The liberals have been driven out of power, replaced with a combative and outspoken new government sharing more in common with Hamas than with other progressive Islamic societies like Lebanon or Jordan.
It is a government which makes threats and demands which alienate the rest of the world, most especially the United States. But, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said just a few weeks ago, "The world needs Iran, we do not need you."
The current Iranian crisis is critically important not only to the stability of the Middle East, but also in determining international nuclear policy itself. Under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), any nation is allowed to develop and use nuclear power for civilian purposes. However, any nation that chooses to do so must submit to rigorous inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which Iran has refused to do.
The fear in the West, as well as in other Middle Eastern nations, is that Iran will use its purportedly civilian reactors to create a nuclear weapon. While Iran has repeatedly claimed that it has no such intention, its refusal to submit to inspections is cause for serious alarm.
Iran is completely justified in claiming its right to civilian nuclear power under the NPT, just as any other nation is justified to do.
The United States must accept at least a small part of the blame in further muddling this debate by allowing India, a nation which has not signed the NPT, to create nuclear weapons. This sends a mixed message to countries like Iran who claim to want to use their nuclear power peacefully: It's OK to not sign the NPT and have nuclear weapons if you are a friendly nation to the United States, but if you are hostile to the United States, there will be international opposition to even allowing a civilian reactor.
The United States must be careful in its rhetoric concerning the Iranian nuclear debate, as perhaps our most important tool of regime change - - the Iranian people - - are beginning to side with their government's position that nuclear power is their right.
The Iranian people are nowhere near as theocratic as their government, and many international democratic watchdogs point out that the Ahmadinejad government came to power only after the vast majority of the liberal candidates were not allowed to stand for election. We need the Iranian people on our side if we ever want to effect a peaceful regime change, and looking like the international pariah denying them their right to nuclear energy isn't the way to do that.
It would be optimistic to say that the Iranian question is even close to being resolved, let alone resolved peacefully. Both Iran and the United States have used the threat of military force if their respective demands are not met. On Tuesday, President George W. Bush stated that all options, including military actions, are still on the table concerning Iran. President Ahmadinejad responded, stating that Iran would cut off the hand of the aggressor who attacked his nation.
This sort of escalating rhetoric does nothing to further what is a completely rational debate on the NPT and the future of nuclear power. In addition to being in no position to begin another war, the United States should know better by now than to make empty threats in a region where its reputation is already on the brink.
As more and more nations gain the technology to operate nuclear reactors, the United States must lead the way in peacefully curbing the ability of those nations to create nuclear weapons while allowing them to become more self-sufficient through nuclear energy.
The United States should back down its threatening rhetoric and publicly state that Iran has the right to nuclear reactors, but must submit to IAEA inspection. If they refuse, the rest of the world will see Iran as we do a nation without rational leadership.
Staff Writer Byron Vierk is a senior from Lincoln, Neb. He majors in English and in religion.